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History: Finding Primary Sources

Starting Your Research

To get started on your research, I recommend the following steps:

  • Learn more about your topic by using encyclopedias like those found in Credo Reference and in the library's Reference section.
  • When you start to narrow down your topic, search for primary sources. Try not to get too invested in a topic until you make sure there are enough primary sources available.
  • Gather secondary sources from journals and books to write your paper.

What is a primary source?

Primary sources allow a researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period. They reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Here are some examples of primary sources:

  • Items that describe events where the author is a participant or observer, such as diaries, letters, memos, journals, speeches, and interviews.
  • Photographs, audio and video recordings, and other electronic records of an event. 
  • Records collected by government agencies such as birth and death records, marriage records, voting tallies, land deeds, and census data. 
  • Records created by organizations or agencies, such as reports, minutes of meetings and bylaws.
  • Memoirs and autobiographies.
  • Material published at the time of an event, such as books, newspapers and magazine and journal articles. These are distinguished from secondary sources because they are contemporary.
  • Data collected by researchers, such as field notes, results of experiments, and measurements.

Primary Sources Online

Many libraries, museums, and archives have digitized their historic documents and put them online in digital libraries. Here are some collections relevant to your topics as interpreted by your professor.